Monday, March 31, 2014

Three AM Thoughts

It's been the sort of night I used to have a lot of but haven't had for a long time: fitful, waking up every 45 minutes or so. I have been laying in bed trying to figure out why, and certainly the failure to post weekly on this Blog has something to do with it. With apologies to you, Gentle Readers. But my creative juices have been entirely soaked up by finishing up Silence: A User's Guide Vol. 1.

The good news, however, is that it is finished. I'm just nit-picking now. The editor wants it on May 1st so I have a deadline. Rowan Williams, bless him, has written the most wonderful Foreword. We are looking to have books in November. The book will also be available on Kindle, but when you see the cover—O my—you may want to own the thing. It will be published in paperback. Watch this space!

I don't know yet when the reprint of The Fountain and the Furnace will be available, but I'm guessing on no basis at all that it will probably be this summer. In the meantime there is Vol. 2 of Silence: A User's Guide to write, which is promised for January. But I am still going to try to do better on the posts here, even if it is only exegesis.

The Society for the Study of Theology conference in Durham is Monday-Wednesday of next week and I will be there only because the subject is Speech and Silence and two of my colleagues insisted that I go. Any of you who are in the area: I'd love to see you. Let me know by a "Do not post" comment and we'll find a time to meet up. I will present a 20-minute account of the book there. I will be wearing armour . . . at least, spiritual armour.

We have just had two of the loveliest days imaginable; very warm for March. Both days I puttered happily with a trowel in the garden planting lupines and snapdragons, and doing odd chores, enveloped in the perfume of hyacinths. After years of soil amendments the garden, and even the bags of compost, are full of fat worms. There are few things that make me happier than sitting in the soil planting seedlings, my hands black with it, smudges on my face, basking in the sun as each tiny plant is set on its journey in the great outdoors. The tomatoes have had a hard time with the damp weather—I started them from seed—but I think there will be enough . . . and some to give away as well. Alas, the wet winter was hard on the birds: the robin population was hit hard, including the one that has visited us for several years. At least we have a pair of blackbirds.

But the thought that finally dragged me out of bed was this: I have given up on the church. Finally. Probably permanently. I had great hopes for the new Dean of the cathedral, but the election did not produce the correct result to generate a renaissance, and all the things I find most depressing are probably going to get worse. I shouldn't be so pessimistic, perhaps, but the trajectory for the last half-century has been forever downward.

One of the wonderful things about Rowan's Foreword to my book is that he agrees with me on these specific points—there's no need to enumerate them; you all know what they are. It isn't just that he is agreeing with me; rather that it reassures me I am not just grousing for no reason, or being self-deluding. There is always this niggle of self-doubt—which I think is very healthy—when I really get going—and of course in the book I really do get going!

I have forced myself to go to church every Sunday this Lent as penance: one shouldn't have to use the institution that way. I've attended even when the person the mere sight of whom makes me lose the will to live has been there, though thankfully not presiding. The one Sunday this person did preside I had the happy excuse that a friend from Germany was preaching at another church. But I have been trying to recognize the former person as a human being; just sitting in church trying to realize that fact in my mind, even though I know through his/her preaching and refusal to engage that this person regards all laity as idiots and ciphers. I don't apologize for my difficulty; I'm in good company: at a recent public lecture Rowan was only half joking when he said that in his next life he was going to be a Quaker. But that's not a live option, either, at least not in this life: the Quakers are just as riven with divisions and schlock as we are.

But it was a shock to realize how far my feelings about institutional religion had gone. I thought I had already hit bottom a long time ago. Evidently not. I quit going to church for much of the winter: in part I couldn't risk my feeble chest in the bad weather; but I wasn't sorry. But then missing the liturgy, which I always do, and the lack of singing hymns, overwhelmed me to the point that, like an addict in need of a fix, I started going again under certain conditions, even though I realized how really reprehensible this was; even though there is no genuine worship. Even though I normally feel that it is better to stay away than be cranky from despair at what goes on. Or doesn't.

I am really looking forward to Holy Week when I go to Devon. At midnight on Easter Eve we will light our own new fire in a brazier of medieval design, outside under the Paschal moon, with the owls calling and the new lambs bleating in the night, and the dogs having hysterics because we have locked them in the house. We will do it even if it pours with rain. My friend will come up with wonderful and wholly appropriate contributions for the liturgy and the haunting chant of Exultet will pour of its own accord from what is left of my throat. We will hear the stories of creation and the dry bones, and Christ rising from the dead.

We will do all this, and, only a stone's throw from us, the exquisite 14th century church that is—or was—at the heart of this hamlet will be dark.


Anonymous abigail Tingman said...

Dear Maggie:So happy to see your post. I too had a fitful night. Perhaps we are just anxious for spring. I also, as do many of us I'm sure, suffer with the church. I try to remind myself that there are others in the church, who no doubt, suffer me (despite how delightful I think I am). I go when I can stand it and also "visit" other churches often. Some people are the patches, and others the threads in this quilt, so perhaps there is use for our dissatisfaction. I've come to realize that our suffering may be the work after all. Well done about the book! Blessings, A.T.

4:43 pm, March 31, 2014  
Anonymous Joel Watson+ said...

I also COMPLETELY understand. I go to Church because I am supposed to go, duty I guess and also because of the Eucharist, indeed all Liturgy. But....

I have found that I find myself praying (?) saying to my self (?) that THIS very mess (of which we are speaking and I am participating in because of "duty" is what I am called to love, in all it's death march to the cliff and to jump with it, or, well, there is nothing else.

It IS "the Way" of the Cross, and my cross, and all the other crosses, even those I have made for others. And in the end, I pray that "I" will learn to love. Damnit-- my salvation is one with it!

Love listening to you! Can't wait for your "Silence" Vol. 1. Who are YOU reading presently? Who do YOU "talk" with? Praying with you.....

5:46 pm, March 31, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Maggie, it's been a long road you have traveled in the company of the church and I hope you are as settled into this as you seem to be. Comes from lots of refection that's for certain.

As Yogi Berra said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Hurray for finishing up Book One!


10:35 pm, March 31, 2014  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

“No one can love and be just who does not understand the empire of force and know how not to respect it.” Simone Weil


1:13 am, April 01, 2014  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

I didn't say I would stop attending, Mike. But the institution's concerns are no longer mine

2:10 am, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

Here's Brian Brock's translation of Bonhoeffer's poem Success and Failure:

This is the hour for the faithful (one),
the hour of the mother and the lover,
the hour of friends and brothers.
Faithfulness transfigures all unhappiness
and wraps it quietly
in soothing,
supernatural radiance.

This blog can easily replace the word "faithfulness" with beholding. And line by line and the spaces in-between, the blog breathes with beholding and seeking, the only 'thing' that can make sense of the ironies and ambiguities within and institutional ones. Ah, Julian of Norwich is always timeless as regards to all manner of things...


3:54 am, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,

I was not suggesting complete severance! I am no longer a member of any church but that does not mean I will entirely stopped attending. For awhile and for however long the need to be apart from lasts.

Would you speak more to what seems like a separation of concerns, yours from that of the church, and how this might play out in attending church? thanks.


4:19 am, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

Reading Pillars of Flame: Power, Priesthood and Spiritual Maturity gives me the sense that what we normally label as "separation" from the Church and its concerns is actually a much deeper engagement with candor and searing honesty, a much firmer "yes" to the possibilities of the church stunted by power tripping and games. I guess Simone Weil remains truthful when she said that "every separation is a link." Separation as other-engaged, creative, critical distance. But my 'representational mind' tugs me to the either/or binary, which is linear thinking rather than paradoxical and holographic as the ebb and flow of ocean tides.

12:39 pm, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, why (go to) church. ? There is being a part of something bigger, to suffer in common is the Way of it. There is duty. There is nothing else to do. There is know the other so as to better resist it. And there is doing penance.

They all come to something like seeing "it" through.

Dang. Know what I mean?


4:15 pm, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

"Seeing" seems more profound than "going," the way He "saw" the poor widow dropping her last two coins on the treasury. He saw her humbly presiding over the eucharist of her own poverty or reliance on Mercy. It happened inside the temple.

6:02 pm, April 01, 2014  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

What does the Greek or KJV say? Is the verb perhaps 'behold'? I can't remember the passage by heart. As I recall it's part of the narrative but if it were in the form of 'he saw' it would probably be 'he beheld'.

6:06 pm, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

"...and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much." KJV

6:31 pm, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

In this case, there seems to be in beholding that allows someone to discern HOW people (or oneself) cast themselves in a liturgical time and space.

6:40 pm, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is take it and run with it good! Thank you


7:54 pm, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My KJV uses "And He looked up and saw ..." "He saw also a certain poor widow cast in ... "

What follows immediately is "And when some spoke of the temple and how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, He said, 'As for these things which ye behold, the day will come in which not one stone ...'"

So, this is inconsistent or indifferent usage? It seems likely that contextually "saw" and "behold" means the same thing. Or not? There is an implication in the "behold" usage of negativity as in Don't behold, because doing so will not last.

desertfisher, Could you perhaps expand on or give an example of "In this case there seems to be in beholding that allows someone to discern HOW people (or oneself) cast themselves in a liturgical time and space."

Is liturgical space/time somehow different or other than ordinary space/time? If so why/how?

Thank you.



9:16 pm, April 01, 2014  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Mike, it's too late for me to look up the Greek but I'm guessing that the words translated 'saw' can be also translated as 'beheld'. If you want to look it up yourself, there's a great website called Great Treasures; you can call up several parallel versions of the bible in Hebrew and Greek, though I haven't figured out how to do the Hebrew yet. In the NT, though, if one of the versions you call up is Titschendorf (sp?) the words are in colour and you can click on a word and it will give you the Greek etymology and nuances.

10:50 pm, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gave up Church a few years ago and feel much better for it.

I thought about Mary Oliver's question 'what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?' and the answer turned out to be not dealing with Church in any shape or form.

I have better things to do.

10:53 pm, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS: I saw a twitter post recently by an ordained person, saying about another ordained person 'he is very good with people on the fringes of the church'.

How patronising. Church people talk like this all the time. They do not realise that we are not on the fringes of the church. The church is on the fringe of our lives!

10:57 pm, April 01, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy smokes! Took a while to figure out where to find non default translations!

Using Titschendoerf, beginner, and the short version.

The words "saw" and "behold" make use of the same definitions. And. The definitions seemingly all include the presence of both an observer and something discerned or very closely observed. Also there is a sense in both of to know intimately or to understand completely where time is not a factor in so doing.

Instantaneously and effortlessly perhaps. Which seems to consider no self ness presence.

Thanks Maggie. Enjoyed that.


12:28 am, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous abigail Tingman said...

Dear All: I am truly enjoying reading all of our collective ambivalence and phlegmatic qualifying as regards our church-going. It is, to be sure, a love/hate relationship. Here's a view that has helped me: THE Church is something only God sees. What we see is A church, a little fleck in time and space, that sometimes works better than others. My mom (may she r.i.p.) loved when I and my brother visited her together. I do not like him and his wife, but it was of no matter because my mother was pleased, simply to "behold" us together. See? It's a sacrifice. Bless. A.

12:29 am, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

It seems safe to assume that discernment is perception open to transfiguration, maybe, what Maggie reservedly alludes to as the "resurrection of the mind". But the mind perceives with the body. A new research reveals that memory is not entirely the turf of the brain. So here was a woman praying in the Temple and giving, her whole body prays. Jesus was keen enough to notice not only the text of the sound-making coins but also the context of HOW it was dropped as registered in the woman's hand, eyes, posture, etc., - the coins were dropped with self-outpouring humility.

It is interesting because in the Eastern Churches, the word "liturgy" refers to the Eucharist, whereas in the West, it primarily means the duty of "public service or worship." The woman in the story did something eucharistic. But the word "liturgical" is merely a pointer; it can switch the mind to a kind of reverential stance even towards something as ordinary as dry, falling leaves of acacia trees, or landslides due to human settlement construction. But it can also be "used" or "abused" in the name of keeping a dehumanizing religious status quo.
But then again, it seems that for a "mind" open to transfiguration, though everything in the world can be liturgy, it seems charged also with the sense of discerning what's liturgical and what's not, true adoration from the counterfeit. He just manifested this sense through a "deep conversation" with the poor widow.

3:21 am, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@anaon. SO much of what you say resonates for me. Who cannot help but like Mary Oliver's elegant sense when speaking to the sanctity inherent in all things! What ever it was that triggered the "I have better thing to do." act, I trust you continue to listen (to it) most carefully. And act accordingly!
I think we all, sooner or later, come to feel the fringe of "the church". Surely this is a sign of good health.

HI Abigail,

Is kenosis I am offering another this sacrifice?

desertfisher. Love this phrase, "it seems for a 'mind' open to transfiguration, every thing in the world can be liturgy." This recalls Kathleen Norris writing that to convert originally meant to turn ones head, to see a new view.

Which Mary Oliver, among others, does so well. This refreshed view.

Thank you all. Much to chew on!


4:09 pm, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had to look this story up but it seems to relate to the infused sanctity of ordinary ness and how one might "cast oneself" or others "in a liturgical space and time." (like weaving a cocoon?)

"At one time the abbot Arsenius came to a certain place and there was a bed of reeds, and the reeds were shaken by the wind. And the old man said to the brethren, 'What is that rustling?' And they said, 'It is the reeds.' The old man said to them, 'Verily, if a man sits in quiet and hears the voice of a bird, he hath not the same quiet in his heart: how much more shall it be with you, that you hear the sound of these reeds?'"

(from The Desert Fathers trans by Helen Waddell)


6:05 pm, April 02, 2014  
Anonymous abigail Tingman said...

I'm not sure kenosis is the right word... unless you see the connection that my mother is an analogy for Abba Father and my brother and I are the church. Sorry I wasn't clearer. Like Abba Father, my mother enjoyed seeing us together. It was a joy to her, regardless of our feelings. (Of course, it would have been better if we could have liked each other.) So... kenosis is accurate if the sacrifice is unto God. If we could just appear, show up, it's enough. Thanks for your replies. They are encouraging. Abigail

10:04 pm, April 02, 2014  

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